I came to Emmaus Gloucestershire in December 2022 after spending some time sofa surfing with friends.

I was ashamed of being homeless. Now, when I’m sharing in a class or a group, I’m confident in saying that I was homeless, but I have a home now in Emmaus Gloucestershire. It’s not yet my own home, but I have a community that takes care of me. I have shelter during the cold weather rather than being out there on the streets rough sleeping.

When I was homeless, I thought I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere that would accept me as an LGBTQ+ person, but Emmaus Gloucestershire welcomed me without question.

Before Emmaus

Before Emmaus, I lost my job and began to lose control of my circumstances. I was so lucky to have friends who took me in and helped me throughout. I even had a friend from the Philippines who let me stay in her Airbnb when she came to the UK on vacation. There wasn’t any time that I didn’t have anywhere to stay, but I could never be sure.

I was emailing a lot of organisations when I was sofa surfing and Emmaus Gloucestershire was recommended. Lo and behold, I was already in Gloucester staying at a friend’s house, as she offered me her daughter’s room while she was away on a gap year. I think it was meant to be!

I was a bit apprehensive at first, as a gay person going into communal living. Would they be welcoming? Would I fit into the community? Everyone of course behaves differently, but I was worried because I’m gay and so effeminate in most of my ways. But I’ve felt so welcomed here and I don’t feel restricted. I’m open about being gay and they have all welcomed me.

Connecting with other LGBTQ+ communities

As a gay person, my age of awakening was a bit late… I’m a late bloomer! I’m now trying to connect with other LGBTQ+ communities. I volunteered for one place when they had Gay Pride here in Gloucester and I’ve recently emailed another organisation to be part of that.

I felt so afraid of telling the staff that I wanted to join an LGBTQ+ community because the hardest thing for me has always been rejection. I also thought at first you had to ‘earn your keep’ at Emmaus by helping all the time in the social enterprise, but that’s not true. Yes, it’s important to do good in your role, but for the staff, we are the most important thing. We’re not just here to work, we’re also here to grow ourselves.

Emmaus Gloucestershire is very supportive of me connecting with other LGBTQ+ communities and when I told my Support Worker Mark, he sent me lots of different possibilities and information on how to make contact. If I’m scheduled to be in the social enterprise, they’ll adjust the schedule so I can volunteer. I feel bad when the whole thing is already scheduled, but they still say that they can adjust it!

I think it’s part of the ethos of Emmaus in terms of solidarity and community. As a person not originally from Gloucester, my ‘community’ was just the house and people at Emmaus to start with, but I needed to branch out and Emmaus Gloucestershire is helping to make this happen. It’s what makes me really happy to be here. Emmaus Gloucestershire is giving me the opportunity and support to reach out to other communities of the same orientation, which can enhance and better me as a person.

I’m not short on resources, because Emmaus Gloucestershire provides them. The staff don’t let you feel like you’re on your own. They give you a lifeboat so you can float and swim. Mark is really helpful and makes it possible for me to express myself and really explore. That’s the beauty of how Emmaus Gloucestershire is moulding me and how it supports me as a gay person. I love it.

New skills and training

When I first joined Emmaus Gloucestershire, I used to sort the bric-a-brac in the shop, and it was just so… boxed. The staff asked if there was anything else that I’d like to do, so I learnt how to use the till. I used to not be very talkative, but now I’m always on the till like – ‘Oh hello! How are you? It’s nice to see you!’– You build a certain familiarity with the regular customers and I’m not afraid to show my feminine side, especially when I see amazing jewellery or a colour that would match a customer nicely.

Early on, I got paired with the Nailsworth Shop Manager and she was so supportive – ‘Go Leo, do your thing… redecorate the whole place!’ – and that’s just what I like. I got to set up all the items, lay tables, and put pictures up in a way that looked nice. I felt so happy to be doing it and using my creative side.

I’ve also joined the upcycling workshops too and at Christmas, I was allowed to decorate! I love all the different things at Emmaus Gloucestershire that allow me to express my creative side, I think it’s so important. There are days when I’ve lost my creative juices though and Emmaus will just tell me to relax, that there will be other opportunities. They let you bloom in your own time, in your own ways. It’s really comforting for an LGBTQ+ person like me to be in a community that nourishes me and gives me the opportunity to do my own thing. If I was bottled up with everything, that wouldn’t be good for my mental health.

I’ve also worked in the collections and deliveries office, which I like too. I’m organised – *papers here, work pens there* – so being in the office means another side of my personality is being brought out and I can express my organisational skills.

I’m learning a lot at Emmaus Gloucestershire and I have gained new skills. I have enrolled in a sewing course and I’m on Level 2 of British Sign Language, which Emmaus is paying for. I’m not going to stay here forever, and you have to prepare yourself for out there. These are just some of the skills that will make me more valuable, as they say, in terms of employment.

Perceptions of homelessness

At first, I felt ashamed to be homeless. What would people think? I’m lucky enough to have friends who gave me opportunities to stay with them, but the thought that it wasn’t going to last was always in the back of my mind.

Now, when I’m sharing in a class or group, I’m confident in saying that I was homeless and if you think this is not the right picture of homelessness, let me give you an education. Homelessness is not just about people living on the street, it’s that you don’t have a permanent place to stay.

I had this experience once when I was in a store, and they asked me if I was paying for my prescription. I said no and they asked why. I said I was homeless, and they looked at me, and I know they were thinking that I didn’t look homeless. I understand where they were coming from, but I want to educate people to help everyone understand that homelessness is not just a particular picture. It’s a multidimensional thing and the circumstances of homelessness are different for every individual. It could be homelessness as a gay person, homelessness for a person who is addicted to something, or homelessness because you lost your job. You cannot judge a book by its cover – darling, you have to read the book to understand what it is.

Moving on

Moving on from Emmaus is always in the plan. Every time I have a support session at Emmaus Gloucestershire, we talk about it. I know for a fact that I’m not going to stay here forever, but before I spread my wings to other things, I would like to take the opportunity to give back to the community by working really hard, doing my best, and at the same time, gain more skills so I’ll be more valuable for future employment.

At my age, 56, I was always worried about whether people would still hire me when I left Emmaus Gloucestershire. What should I do? Get more skills. I know how to sew and craft and work the till, all because I was given these chances by Emmaus Gloucestershire, and now they are giving me the chance to learn sign language, which is another skill I can use to sell myself out in the world. I’m employable, people!

Even though I was homeless, my growth didn’t stop. When I do move on, Emmaus Gloucestershire will have given me the tools to integrate back into society.  I truly love and am grateful to Emmaus for giving me all these opportunities.

The community side is one thing about Emmaus that I’ll miss. At Emmaus Gloucestershire, there are some differences and hurdles that need to be crossed, but underneath all of that, there is solidarity. There are opportunities for all of us to express ourselves as individuals. I don’t have to hide that I’m gay or ever think that the Emmaus community might not like that I’m gay. I’m proud and happy to be part of the Emmaus Gloucestershire community because they are welcoming to LGBTQ+ people like me.

I rarely talk about these things, but I feel so happy here that I wanted to share my story to tell the world and everybody out there in the LGBTQ+ community; if you’re homeless, it’s not the end of the world and you will find help. Rejection is part of everyday life as an LGBTQ+ person, but you have to try. There are organisations like Emmaus that you can reach out to for help and feel comfortable at. I’m gay, and I was welcomed to Emmaus Gloucestershire without question.